Exhibit one is a not uncommon military photograph: a group shot of a World War One unit known as Goddard’s Squadron. A quick glance reveals nothing more than an unremarkable if historical image. But closer inspection reveals the faint, even ghostly, figure of a particular airman. And this man had a compelling reason not to appear in the snap.
The eerie face that’s apparent in the image belongs to air mechanic, Freddy Jackson, it’s said. Since he was part of Goddard’s Squadron, it’s hardly unusual that he should be in this photo. Except for one thing. Jackson had walked into a rotating propeller and died from his injuries days before it was taken.
The date of the image is uncertain, but it’s probably late in 1918, although the year 1919 has also been mentioned. As we’ll see, some of the facts at the heart of the tale are difficult to pin down. Nevertheless other elements of the story are undoubtedly true. For example, Sir Victor Goddard, who gave his name to the image, definitely existed.
The photograph is reported to have been taken at HM Naval Seaplane Training School in Lee-on-Solent, England, later to be known as HMS Daedalus. And the establishment was commissioned in 1917 with the splendidly named Squadron Commander Douglas Evill at the helm. You see, WWI was raging and Britain was in desperate need of seaplane fliers to counter German submarines. So these pilots were trained at the new base.
According to an account on the Liveabout Dotcom website in 2019, the Goddard Squadron photo was taken on the very day of the luckless Jackson’s funeral. What’s more, the men and women of Goddard’s squadron had been mustered for the snap in the very spot where Jackson met his gruesome end. Or so that’s what American author Blake Smith claimed in an article on the Skeptic website in 2015.
It turns out that Air Marshal Sir Robert Victor Goddard was no stranger to paranormal events. You see, in 2018 the Daily Record recounted one of the extraordinary stories that seem to have punctuated Goddard’s life. According to the paper, Goddard was piloting his biplane on a flight over Scotland in 1935.
And the newspaper quoted passages from a 1997 book by J.H. Brennan, Time Travel: A New Perspective. Brennan wrote “In 1935, while still a Wing Commander, he was sent to inspect a disused airfield near Edinburgh at a place called Drem. He found it in a very dilapidated state with cattle grazing on grass that had forced through cracks in the tarmac.”
Now, Drem is a village some 18 miles to the east of the Scottish capital, Edinburgh. The British had established an air base there in 1917 during WWI. At that time, it was called West Fenton Aerodrome and hosted British units, as well as an American outfit, the 41st Aero Squadron.But it was abandoned from 1919 until 1933 when it became used only occasionally for exercises.
So the claim that when Goddard flew over Drem in 1935 he saw below him a derelict airfield is entirely plausible. Brennan continued the tale, “Later that day, he ran into trouble while flying his biplane in heavy rain and decided to fly back to Drem to get his bearings. As he approached the airfield the torrential rain abruptly changed to bright sunlight.”
The storm that hit Goddard’s plane seems to have caused an extraordinary turn of events. As Brennan described it, “When he looked down he saw the airfield had been completely renovated and was now in use. There were mechanics in blue overalls walking around and four yellow planes parked on the runway. One of these was a model which, for all his aviation experience, he completely failed to recognize.”
And there was a reason why this vision that Goddard witnessed was extraordinary. For four years later in 1939, with WWII on the horizon, the airfield at Drem was indeed renovated. Yes, with a newly laid runway the airfield was brought back into use as a Royal Air Force base.
Furthermore, Goddard’s apparent journey four years into the future – thanks to that storm – was lent credibility by other details. You see, at the time of his flight in 1935, training aircraft were silver colored, but by 1939 they were an eye-catching yellow, as Goddard had alleged seeing. Similarly, ground crew uniforms were tan-colored in 1935, but blue in 1939.
Another example of Goddard’s association with the paranormal came after WWII had ended in the Chinese city of Shanghai. The year was 1946 and Goddard was enjoying himself at an afternoon drinks party thrown in his honor according to this yarn. But the party turned sour when he overheard another guest recounting a vivid dream they’d had the night before.
The man who’d been describing his dream was Captain Gerald Gladstone, at the time the skipper of HMS Black Prince. Now, Gladstone certainly existed. And in his dream, there had been a plane crash with Goddard on board who, of course, had perished.
According to one source, Gladstone was embarrassed to find Goddard standing nearby, close enough to hear his account of the dream. With a smile, Goddard allegedly said to Gladstone, “I’m not quite dead yet. What made you think I was?” So Gladstone went on to describe more details from the dream.
The plane had been a standard transport aircraft, perhaps a Dakota. With Goddard on the flight were two men and a woman who were civilians. And somewhere over the coast of Japan or China, the plane had encountered bad weather, causing it to crash. Gladstone added grimly, “I watched it all happen. You were killed.” In fact, Goddard was due to fly on a military flight to Tokyo the next day.
Then that very evening, according to the story, Goddard heard that he would indeed be flying to Tokyo aboard a Dakota. And accompanying him would be three civilians, two men and a woman. Unbelievably, the resemblance to the dream recounted by Gladstone was uncanny. Once the flight was under way, the similarity continued.
Indeed, the flight was blighted by bad weather, and ultimately the pilot was forced to crash land during a snowstorm. The plane came down on the wild shore of an island. But one key detail from Gladstone’s dream did not come true. In Goddard’s account, he and all of the others aboard the Dakota survived the crash.
Now, it’s said that Goddard was haunted by this experience, and after a year he wrote to Gladstone asking for more details of the dream he’d had. But Gladstone was unable to furnish any further information. Regardless, Goddard returned to the topic in 1951, writing an article about it for the Saturday Evening Post.
Eventually, the story piqued the interest of some British film-makers. And using Goddard’s tale as the basis for its script, a movie called The Night My Number Came Up was released in 1955. Respected American critic Leonard Maltin wrote that this “First-rate suspense film will have you holding your breath as it recounts a tale of a routine military flight, the fate of which may or may not depend on a prophetic dream.”
Clearly Goddard was one of those people to whom things happened, whether based on fact or fiction. But the tale of the mysterious photograph featuring a dead airman at the end of WWI was actually part of a wider tapestry of strange stories collected from the conflict. Yes, it seems that supernatural experiences were far from rare during the war.
That’s right, a 2014 article in the National Post quoted the words of Tim Cook, a historian with the Canadian War Museum. And he’d made a study of diaries written during WWI, discovering that, “There are spectral visions; people see ghosts, they see images of their mothers, they see dead comrades.” The National Post piece goes on to quote from a WWI memoir.
The memoir, Ghosts Have Warm Hands, was written by Canadian Will Bird and first published in 1930. In it, Bird remembered a time when he was hunkered down in a WWI bunker and actually asleep. But he was shaken from his slumber by his brother, which was strange since Steve Bird had died two years previously.
Bird continued the story, “Steve grinned as he released my hands, then put his warm hand over my mouth as I started to shout my happiness.” Bird’s brother told him to “get your gear” and indicated that he should leave the bunker. Then he disappeared. Bird did indeed leave the underground shelter. Moments later, a shell landed on it.
Also, Cook described another eerie account, this time from a letter written by Corporal Amos Mayse who’d enlisted in 1916. Mayse wrote after being wounded, “It seems strange that one should have the premonition of coming events as your dream, yet it very often happens. The night I was hit, before leaving the front line trenches I had the feeling which I could not rid myself of that something was going to happen.”
Of course, Cook had an interesting explanation for this phenomenon of paranormal experiences among soldiers on the battlefield. He pointed out that, “Not only are these guys living on sites of mass murder, but they are literally cheek to jowl with the dead.” And he was loath to simply discount the stories some men told.
The historian told the National Post, “I don’t think it’s just sleep deprivation, I don’t think it’s just tired guys, and I don’t think it’s soldiers trying to trick people in letters; I think that they actually believed in this.” It’s perhaps no surprise that emotions and senses are heightened so much in the intense stress of wartime.
While troops in Goddard’s Squadron in England were not actually in active combat, they were training at a time of war. And it’s a safe bet that many of them would have had friends or relatives on the frontline, some of whom may well have been killed or badly wounded. In those circumstances, the supernatural may well have seemed all the more credible.
Anyway, what we know about the circumstances of the extraordinary photograph with its apparent image of a dead man comes mainly from Goddard himself. To see the ghostly image, purportedly of the dead Freddy Jackson, we need to look closely at the back row of the serried service men and women. Concentrate on the man fourth from the left at the back. Just to his right, behind him, you’ll see the ghostly face.
According to the Liveaboutdotcom website, the photograph was first published in a book written by Goddard and published in 1975. The work in question was titled Flight Towards Reality and apparently deals with everything from UFOs to fairies and time travel to reincarnation. The book is real alright, but it does not actually include the Goddard Squadron photo.
However, what Goddard’s book does include is a description of the image. He writes, “I have a photograph in front of me,” and goes on to say that it was taken by Bassano’s studio “at the time of Armistice after the First World War.” The WWI Armistice, which marked the end of the fighting, was on November 11, 1918 which dates the picture.
Goddard goes on to describe the people in the photo. They include men and women from various branches of the flying services of both the army and the navy. As he points out, it was a time of some “chaos” as different flying units were being brought together to form the Royal Air Force. And he says that most of those in the image were soon to return to civilian life.
The Air Marshall describes how the photograph was pinned up on a notice board so that those who wanted a copy could make an order. That was when, “those who scanned the photograph identifying friends then saw – or they were prompted then to see – the face of Freddy Jackson, air mechanic, in the topmost row.”
Goddard continued to explain, “Well, there he was, and no mistake, although a little fainter than the rest. Indeed he looked as though he was not altogether there; not really with the group, for he alone was capless, smiling, all the rest were serious and set and wearing service caps.”
Next came a description of Jackson’s terrible death. Goddard wrote, “For Freddy Jackson had, upon that very spot – the Squadron tarmac – three days before, walked heedlessly into the whirling propeller of an aeroplane. He had been killed stone dead instantly. He, evidently, was still quite unaware of it.” So, according to Goddard, Jackson had turned up for the unit photo because he didn’t know he was dead.
Interestingly, Goddard flat out rejected any suggestion that the photo had been faked. There was, he wrote, “certainty that there had been no hanky-panky in the dark room. Not only would Bassano’s not have dared to fake it; the negative was scrutinized for faking and was found to be untouched.” As far as Goddard was concerned, the image was entirely authentic.
To add to that, one man who has dedicated considerable effort to the mystery of the photo is Blake Smith, whom we mentioned earlier. For it was he who checked Goddard’s 1975 book hoping to see the original photo. But as we’ve seen, he discovered that the photo wasn’t actually in the book, although a description of it was.
And Smith also tried to track down the enigmatic Freddy Jackson. You see, there was one contemporary witness still alive in 1996 called Bobbie Capel. She appears in the Goddard Squadron photo in the second row from the front, fourth from the right. Furthermore, in 1996 she said that she was completely certain that the faint image was Jackson.
However, despite his best efforts, Smith was unable to reach a firm conclusion about Jackson’s identity. He found one Freddy Jackson whose dates more or less fitted. But he’d died of a heart attack, not injuries inflicted by a propeller. Plus this Jackson was a gunner with the Royal Marines rather than an airman.
So what’s the truth? Well, Smith admitted that his only copy of the image was “a print-out of a scan of the original.” Plus, there’s the fact that photographic exposures were prolonged back in 1918. Therefore, it’s possible that the man fourth from the left in the back row simply moved as the snap was taken. Ultimately, deciding whether this really is a photo of a dead man must come down to whether you believe in ghosts or not.